Monthly Archives: June 2014

28 HuBin Road, Hangzhou


Chef: Colin Yu   Website:  Cuisine: Traditional Hangzhou

Described by Marco Polo as the finest and noblest city in the world, the city of Hangzhou is synonymous with its UNESCO world heritage site of the West Lake, scenic beauty and Dragon Well tea. It is also the location of the restaurant, 28 HuBin Road! The restaurant, located at the Hyatt Regency, is considered to be the best restaurant in China by many notable local food critics and the like. Located only an hour’s train ride from Shanghai, it would have been sacrilegious to miss this opportunity. We were famished from some early morning tourism around Hangzhou and arrived with an appetite!

20111109-IMG_0944The cooking here celebrated the traditional and diverse cuisine of Hangzhou and the surrounding region. It is not only a favourite spot amongst local Chinese people but also attracts foreigners from afar including ourselves of course. On this occasion, rather than dining in the main dining room, we made a reservation for…

20111109-IMG_0950… the private dining room, which had a lovely view out on to the bamboo garden. Before getting stuck in our meal, we were welcomed with a traditional tea ceremony. It was apparent from the first few minutes that the quality of service here was far more superior to any other restaurant we visited during our trip. The front of house were engaging, insightful and most importantly made you feel at ease. Despite the 2,500 bottles of wine on offer, we decided to make the most of the varieties of tea to go with our meal.

20111109-IMG_0967As were were aiming to catch the last train back to Shanghai that evening, we had to request for our meals to be served at a slightly faster pace. Straight after the ceremony, a plate of appetisers were brought to each of us. Starting with the left going clockwise, there was aromatic beef with a sesame sauce, sweet and sticky rice cubes with lotus root, a delicious slow poached quail egg where the yolk had been replaced with a rich foie gras mousse, crispy fried radish, smokey fish and finally a parcel of crunchy enoki mushroom. It was a modern twist on classic dishes, but most importantly all were delicious.

20111109-IMG_0976Rather than serving everything simultaneously or as the dishes were ready, the food here came steadily in a paced speed, allowing us to savour each course separately. Our next course was Lady Song’s Sweet and Sour Fish Soup, an 800 year old dish made from a rich broth and the tender meat of the mandarin fish. Everything in the soup tasted fresh and given the complexity of the flavours I could see why it gained the nickname of the luxurious ‘crab porridge’ despite containing none of the crustacean.

20111109-IMG_0981The Longjing Xia Ren (Dragon well shrimps) was similarly impressive. The fresh water shrimps had been coated and marinated in a mixture of egg white and potato starch for a couple of hours before being ‘velveted’ (flavours sealed through medium heat) and combined with a simple sauce infused with premium quality Dragon Well tea. Additional tea leaves were scattered for finishing touches to really infuse the herbacious flavours of the tea to the moist and tender shrimp.

20111109-IMG_0985The highlight of the menu was undoubtedly the Dongpo Pork served with bamboo shoots and chestnut pancake, which looked as impressive as it tasted. The pork belly was carved out into a pyramid shape…

20111109-IMG_0992… but what was more impressive was the knife skills that then went into slicing meticulously along the edges of the pork belly, keeping the piece together as one long strip. It was then braised in its pyramidal shape, revealing the skills that went into the dish only as you unfolded the meat from the base.

20111109-IMG_0997The bamboo shoots and pork belly slices were then wrapped with the sweet chestnut pancake. The thin layers of pork belly melted in your mouth, releasing a flood of sweet and savoury flavours. This dish alone justified our trip to Hangzhou, and even China.

20111109-IMG_0998This was also my first time trying the West Lake poached Marble Goby in sweet vinegar sauce. Other than the benefits we’d heard on the rumour mill around the fish having life prolonging and healing properties, the marble goby fish was tender, smooth and sweet, but not flakey. The flavours from this fresh water fish was amazing and as far as I could remember one of the best I’ve had in a very long time.

20111109-IMG_1006We hesitated on ordering the Beggar’s chicken, given none of us had ever enjoyed the dish, often due to the meat being too dry or bitter from the stuffing, but a trusted food source had advised us to reconsider the dish here. So we gave it a try…… and boy were we glad we ended up not missing out on this dish. A stuffed whole chicken was wrapped in layers of lotus leaf and covered in clay before being baked for an hour.

20111109-IMG_1008It was brought to our table still in the clay and with a wooden hammer. The chef prompted us to pick the hammer up and break the mould for good luck.

20111109-IMG_1021This dish was the result from experimenting with over 200 recipes over a number of months. The juicy meat fell off the bone with ease and was packed with flavours and fragrance from concoction of rice wine, soy sauce, sesame oil, star anise, ginger and stuffing (which remained a secret), resulting with a sweet after taste. Impressive stuff.

20111109-IMG_1023A rather unadventurous Honey glazed ham followed the preceding three amazing dishes.

20111109-IMG_1024And when we thought the best dishes were done and dusted, a fairly unassuming Braised cabbage with crab roe appeared in front of us. However, the execution of the dish was exemplary. The cabbage had been prepared with precision to allow enough flavours of the crab roe to be soaked up, yet maintain some bite. It was like a blank canvas painted in crustacean. All we could taste was the delicious crab from Yangcheng Lake.

20111109-IMG_1029Just in case we didn’t get enough of the beautiful crab flavour the chef prepared us a bowl of Mixed Noodles and bean sprout with crab roe. I personally preferred the braised cabbage as the flavours of the crab roe was comparably lost here.

20111109-IMG_1033A Crab roe dumpling soup was then served to finish our meal, abruptly, as we realised we had only 15 minutes before rushing back to the train station.

20111109-IMG_1034Fortunately, we had just enough time to squeeze in an assortment of desserts. Showcasing traditional and modern flavours and techniques from the Dragon Well Tea crème brûlée and Osmanthus ice cream, to the Jasmin mousse cake, what a perfect way to end our meal. Thoroughly delightful.

20111109-IMG_0955There were some amazing restaurants in China but 28 HuBin Road was the only place that offered a fine dining experience that went beyond amazing food. As a foreigner, I appreciated the front of house taking their time to go over many of the tales and anecdotes behind the dishes that have now become synonymous to traditional Hangzhou cuisine. In retrospect, it would have been far more sensible to have stayed overnight in Hangzhou. I won’t be making the same mistake again next time. You have been warned.

Made in China, Beijing

20111107-IMG_0651Website:    Cuisine: Peking Duck

What does one do when in Beijing? Eat Peking Duck of course, and that’s exactly the first thing I did with Fine Dining Explorer when we arrived…. and repeatedly…. during our short stay. But there was a reason for our quest. We were not looking for just any Peking Duck. We were looking for the best, and it came to us as a surprise that finding a good Peking Duck in Beijing was a far more difficult feat than we initially imagined. But the search was finally over when we arrived at Made in China, located in the premise of the Grand Hyatt, Beijing. If there was anything I took away from my two week gourmet blitz trip across China, it was that majority of the fine dining establishments in China were located in the five star hotels. A rather odd concept!

20111108-P1070197As it turned out, given the lengthy preparation required for each duck, the restaurant had a limited number of 70 ducks on offer every day so reservation for a duck was paramount when securing a table. Lucky for me that Fine Dining Explorer organised everything up front so we had nothing to worry about. I flared my nose in olfactory anticipation as we walked past the ducks that were being given the final touches of an hours cooking in the wood oven. The manager told us that they had been inflated and the hung overnight in the fridge to separate the skin from the meat.

P1040122Given we were four very hungry people, it made sense to also order some additional dishes on the side. After all, we were having a duck between us as post-meal snacks on the days leading up to this meal…

20111107-IMG_0662We started off with some pickled radish and dried bean curd as we waited for our dishes to arrive.

20111107-IMG_0666We had an assortment of three entrées starting with the Spinach leaves tossed with sesame sauce and Chinese rice vinegar, which had a lovely nutty flavour and toasty aroma. The flavours for me were more reminiscent of Japanese cuisine.

20111107-IMG_0667Some Steamed eggplant with Chinese rice vinegar which had a lovely texture and plenty of flavours. I particularly enjoyed the sharpness from the rice vinegar against the earthy mushroom.

20111107-IMG_0670The last of the entrée was a rather disappointing Braised pork knuckle served with pickled cucumber, which had very little flavour and hardly any seasoning.

20111107-IMG_0675On to our main dish of the evening, the Old fashioned Peking duck from the wood fired oven with classic condiments. We were told that the skin around the wings and neck were the crispiest and most delicate, and therefore prepared first.

20111107-IMG_0677We were advised to have the crispy skin with sugar only. It was remarkably light, flavoursome, and, contrary to expectation, not too oily.

20111107-IMG_0683Some pancakes were presented on the side to wrap the other parts of the duck, starting with…

20111107-IMG_0680… the leg of the duck with the skin. It was deliciously succulent with a good contrast between the tender meat and the crispy skin. We were again advised to have it with the pancake and the garlic sauce. I preferred this cut far more than the…

20111107-IMG_0678Breast meat which also was tender and juicy but lacked that dimension of flavour and texture from the crispy skin.

20111107-IMG_0688Some extra courses followed starting with Fried dried string beans with minced pork and preserved vegetables. I absolutely love fried Chinese vegetables and this was no exception. Great crunch, good level of heat and a generous amount of garlic. Divine.

20111107-IMG_0690The Honey glazed king prawns with dried chilli, ginger and sliced garlic was a pleasant surprise. The crispy prawn had been deep-fried enough to allow us to eat the skin as well. I couldn’t remember the last time seeing such gigantic prawns!

20111107-IMG_0692A bowl of Duck soup made from the bone which was completely absent of flavour. Perhaps it was served at the wrong time as the preceding fried courses had a lingering flavour dominating my palate.

20111107-IMG_0694A favourite dish from Hangzhou, the Crispy Mandarin fish with sweet and sour sauce, served without bones. I’m not very keen on sweet and sour dishes primarily due to the fact that I always found an imbalance between the two elements. On this occasion, the balance of sweet and sour was spot on and consequently delicious.

20111107-IMG_0697Rather than going for the conventional options of white rice as a side dish, we had some Boiled dumplings filled with mince pork Beijing Cabbage and yellow chives to go with food instead. It wasn’t bad but was no contender to the phenomenal ranges fo dumplings we had in Shanghai the subsequent week.

20111107-IMG_0705Dessert took us all by surprise. We had an assortment of desserts from the banana chocolate spring roll, cheesecake with apricot compote, a decadently rich chocolate mousse with brownie, profiteroles, ice cream with rose, lychee, vanilla and chocolate flavours with a brandy basket, chocolate with five grain liquor (wuliangye), lavendar creme brulee which was slightly lumpy and uneven in texture, mango pudding and some fresh fruits. We were absolutely stuffed!

20111107-IMG_0652The Peking Duck in Made in China was by far the best one we had during our stay in Beijing. The bonus of course were the additional courses we had little to no expectations from, yet delivered on a high note. However, top end restaurants in China still have a long way to go when it comes to the business of service. Made in China was no exception with the brusque service and lack of interaction with the front of house. But given the modest price tag and delicious food on offer, it would not deter me in the slightest from coming back over and over again. Just remember to reserve your mallard in advance.

Lake House, Daylesford

P1150947Chef: Alla Wolf-Tasker     Website:        Cuisine: Modern Australian

In 1984, Alla and Allan Wolf-Tasker embarked on a massive journey to create a little piece of paradise in the regional town of Daylesford. 30 years on, not only have they become a gourmet destination in Australia having been nominated again the Best Regional Restaurant in 2014, they have also been listed in the UK Tatler’s 101 Best Hotels, as well as having the Best Country Wine List. With so many accolades to their name, including their famous spa (after all they are in spa country), my wife and I decided not do this half heartedly but embrace the experience in its entirety.

P1150883Our stay could not have commenced better after we were informed that we had been upgraded to a Waterfront Suite (from the Waterfront Room). It was a very comfortable room with an unobstructed view of the lake. I made the most of our upgrade by soaking in the enormous spa bath in our bathroom whilst my wife indulged for a couple of hours at their resident spa before dinner; a perfect segway to dinner.

P1150922We arrived into a buzzing dining room led by one of the many French staff that worked at the Lake House. We were seated right by the kitchen door, although admittedly I was very envious of the people sitting by the window on the comfortable sofas. On to the menu and it was a rather difficult choice. Our package included a three course a la carte option already but we had the option to upgrade to a full tasting menu for a small fee. I was hoping to go with the full tasting menu whilst my wife stuck with the three course option. Unfortunately, contrary to the experience shared by other foodies, we were told the tasting menu was an all or nothing affair and I therefore, unable to convince my wife of the merits of the upgrade, was stuck with the three course option.

P1150886My first encounter with sparkling wine from the Macedon Ranges (see previous post) completely blew me away so I couldn’t resists trying the house Lake House Rosé by Cope-Williams, NV. Macedon Ranges, Victoria.

P1150896For bread we had a bowl with a selection of sourdough and slices of home made baguette. The sourdough, which was sourced from Basilio, had a good airy texture but the baguette was lacking in salt and thus flavour.

P1150898We began our dinner with an amuse bouche of Air-dried tuna, shallots, tomato and cucumber. The air dried tuna had been dusted in what appeared to be paprika to give the dish a surprising element of heat. Fresh ingredients and lovely contrast of textures from the crunchy onion to the meaty tomato cubes and chewy fish that reminded me of the Asian dried fish. We were getting very hungry.

P1150894One of the wine that was being offered by the glass caught my eyes when the pairing was being discussed with the sommelier. I was strongly recommended to try the amber wine of 2009 Pheasant’s Tears, Rkatsiteli, Kakheti, Georgia, which had a spicy nose with a unique peppery fino-like note. The biggest surprise was the grippy tannins and lingering flavour. Not a wine to drink on its own but went quite well with my first course.

P1150900The Tasmanian black truffle was what prompted me to choose my first course. Admittedly, they were no where near as generous as the waiters in France or Italy. Sadly only three shavings to go with my…

P1150902Oxtail dumplings and consommé, confit yolk, truffle. The consommé was key to this dish with its intense flavour and clarity. The oxtail dumpling was spot on too with its thin soft skin and delicious morsel of oxtail inside that just melted in the mouth with the consommé and pieces of black truffle. It was a rich and earthy flavour that really needed the piece of…

P1150906… buttery Marrow brioche to mop it all up. I probably could have done with a bit more marrow with the brioche as the tiny slither hardly was enough for half a slice. Nevertheless, this was cause of my wife’s food envy who instead opted for…

P1150903… the Glazed kingfish, buckwheat noodles, miso mustard sabayon. It would be unfair to knock this dish because the balance of flavours and overall composition was actually more elegant than my dish with every component working in subtle harmony, highlighting the flavour of the fish. The miso mustard sabayon was light, silky and perfect for the glazed fish. The crispy buckwheat noodles completed the trifecta with the textural contrast and there was a lovely level of heat coming from the slices of red chili. What a superb first course all round!

P1150908For the next course the sommelier recommended the 2010 Cobaw Ridge, Pinot Noir, Macedon Ranges, Victoria. I was open to trying something new and given Cobaw Ridge was the only unfamiliar one on the options by glass, I obliged. Whilst it was a fine drop, I must confess it wasn’t my type of pinot noir as I found it rather too spicy on the nose and palate for my liking.P1150909We normally have a rule of choosing different dishes but we couldn’t turn down the Flinders Island roast leg of saltgrass lamb, truffled pommee purée, winter accompaniments that required a minimum of two persons. It was served with a thick delicious jus on the side. The crime here was that, sadly instigated by us, the kitchen had to cook the meat closer to well done as my wife was pregnant. As a result the meat was slightly dry, although the herb crust on the outside and the jus more than made up for the compromise. My wife did not waste time in tucking into the truffled pomme purée, having missed out the truffle in round one.

P1150916Dessert was another triumph for me with the ‘Apple’ which consisted of a bed of granny smith apple granita on which laid a thin casing of white chocolate. As I cracked the sphere I could see…

P1150920… the inside was filled with buttermilk, walnut and an apple and cidre jelly. It had a good acidic sharpness to the dish with an inviting aromatic scent and was not sickeningly sweet at all. My wife was yet again filled with food envy.

P1150918She opted for A winter’s ramble – seeds, nuts, quince, honey, parsnip, chocolate. This was a much more subtle dish with an interesting play on texture using, unusually for a dessert, seeds and nuts to contrast the soft sponge and quince. Again the flavours were extremely well balanced although it did not have the wow factor of my dish.

P1150890The food at Lake House was undeniably good and the restaurant certainly sets the bar for charming country side restaurants in Australia. What I personally enjoyed, other than the food, was the relaxed atmosphere in the dining room, absent of any pretense, and whilst the food tried to be contemporary, I found the flavours to be comforting and rather familiar, though that was not a bad thing at all. The one thing that was missing that evening was perhaps the backstory to the producers and farmers  that contributed to each dish, for I was led to understand that locality and seasonality was at the centre of Wolf-Tasker’s food (albeit some limited information being available on the menu itself).

La Grenouillere, Montreuil sur Mer


Chef: Alexandre Gauthier      Website:     Cuisine: Modern French

I think it’s a fair assumption to say that the French in general have a relatively low tolerance for modern cuisine and, to a certain extent, I can see their point; why fix something when it’s right? Challenging this concept however, there has been a growing number of chefs over the last decade that have been daring enough to embrace the modern aesthetic. Alexandre Gauthier is one such individual. Since taking over the reins from his father in 2003, Gauthier has come a long way to regain the Michelin star the restaurant lost in 2001. In addition, he has established a hotel that fully encompasses his unique vision and reflects his ethos of working with nature.

P1090555The auberge and restaurant are situated in an idyllic location right by the river Canche, outside the village of Montreuil. This picturesque site is further enhanced by what appears to be a completely wild and rugged garden, full of wild flowers and grasses. On closer inspection however, it is clear that every detail has been carefully considered, highlighting Gauthier’s respect of the natural environment.

P1090503In usual fashion, we commenced the evening with a glass of champagne and an array of amuse bouches in the sitting room located in the old farmhouse that previously served as the main dining room during Gauthier’s fathers time. The imposing fireplace added character to the rustic room that had wooden beams across the ceiling and polished stone floors. Gauthier has thoughtfully and lovingly conserved the room in its former style, respecting the roots and rich history of the auberge.

P1090573The restaurant, on the other hand, went through a serious transformation in 2011 when Gauthier discovered Patrick Bouchain (the architect behind the contemporary gites, Les Cadoles, Maison Troisgros) and employed him to help “reinvent” the restaurant. The result has been a giant theatrical space allowing curious patrons to observe the chefs working methodically in the modern and open kitchen during their meal.

P1090531The new minimalist dining room equipped with tanned leather chairs and tables was elegant but simple, and did not distract diners from the beautiful garden surrounding the entire room visible through floor to ceiling windows.

P1090572We managed to try all the bread that was on offer throughout the evening. Suffice to say, bread making is a religious affair in France that even the avant garde chefs are simply not willing to do without. Great textures, crust and flavours.

P1090583The first course of the evening was a light and delicate egg white curd that had been stuffed with grey shrimps (Blanc d’oeuf caillé, crevettes grises). Interesting texture not too dissimilar to that of cottage cheese.

P1090584An extra course of razor clam was placed on the edge of our bowl (Ensin, blanc d’oeuf…). The raw clam, served in its shell on a bed of fluffy egg white foam dusted with corn powder, had a very clean and mineral flavour. Nice crunchiness from the fine crouton crumbs.

Green strawberry, seaweed, fresh cockles and sea waterI must admit tonight was a first for many things but I had not expected to try green strawberry (Fraise verte…), nor combined it with cockles, seaweed and homemade seawater. The acidity of the unripe strawberry added freshness to the dish and was amazingly balanced by the sweetness of the slightly cooked cockles. The seaweed provided a textural element and the “seawater” was the perfect seasoning to bring the dish altogether. A highly unique and delicious dish!

P1090595I similarly enjoyed the octopus and petit pois (Petits pois, seiche…), particularly how Gauthier played with the texture. The octopus was soft and mushy (as one would usually expect from cooked peas) whereas the giant petit pois were cooked with extreme precision to provide a delicious crunch. The concentrated petit pois juice served at the table rounded off this naturally sweet dish. Admittedly, what impressed me most with this dish was how much flavour of the octopus I could taste as they are quite often served with sauces that dominate the flavour of the dish.

P1090600A gigantic 000 oyster, hiding under a long tagliatelle of zucchini (Huître grillée, courgette…). The oyster perfumed with smoke went particularly well with the peppery rocket and sweet zucchini.

P1090604Another surprise course appeared containing cockles with slices of raw yellow squash and lemon zest (Courges jeunes, coques, fleur). The squash was the perfect canvas to amplify the flavour of the clams whilst giving a meaty texture.

P1090607The surprise courses kept on coming including this John Dory course (Saint-Pierre, épinard fumé…). The delicately salted fillet of fish arrived perched atop a bed of silky smoked spinach and crunchy spring onion.

P1090613I had to do a double take when the little cushions made from wheat were presented amongst an entangled rope (Coussin de blé…). The cushions were filled with a very seductive white truffle emulsion that engulfed our table with its aroma for the next five minutes. Delicious.

P1090618An example of Gauthier’s obsession in respecting and maintaining the purity of ingredient was the delicate lobster tail, slightly poached, and infused lightly with the smoke from the burning juniper branch it was served in (Homard, genièvre…). Putting aside the theatrical spectacle of the dish, the buttery flavour and succulent texture of the lobster was stunning and the aroma of the burning juniper enhanced the taste without necessarily complicating the “essence” of the dish.

P1090626The globe artichoke served on a bed of thistle seeds (Chardon, grainés) was probably the least favourite dish of the evening. Don’t get me wrong, the dish wasn’t terrible but neither was it interesting. There was something missing on the plate which I couldn’t put my finger on. Possibly some kind of a sauce or something that bound the elements together. It was rather dry.

P1090632Another surprise course of the grilled frogs legs served on a bed of basil leaves (Grenouilles grillées, basilic), dressed with a caramel flavoured mousse made from butter and lemon. Tender and delicious, but most interestingly you could really taste the meat and it was divine. I don’t think I’ve ever taste the flavour so distinctly before as most restaurants have tended to deep-fry them to a crisp. Brave move but the risk paid off.

P1090636Our penultimate savoury course had me wondering for a while as I couldn’t see any girolles mushroom at first sight (girolle, peau de lait, amandes…). Rather, the girolles that had been lightly pan fried in garlic butter were nestling below a thin skin of slightly sour goats milk with some almonds. Complex flavours with the sour note working well in contrast to the peppery mushroom.Vachette with courgette despite it hav ing the crunch texture exactly like celery. Great flavours from such a cheap cutOur only meat course consisted of a smokey thin cut of steak which was served with garlic scapes / stems (vachettes, tiges…). Gauthier came out himself to serve this course to explain why he chose a cheap cut as he firmly believed that mundane ingredients properly prepared could be phenomenal. Granted, it was a bit chewy but it was packed with flavour. What amazed me most and remains a mystery was how he managed to infuse such an intense smokey flavour into the meat, given it was served blue?

P1090652Dessert was by no means inferior to the impressive dishes that had preceded it. I certainly would not have thought that presenting a block of honeycomb at our table would have aroused as much excitement as some of the spectacles I experienced in places like el Bulli; but it did. The waitress prepared the piece of honeycomb on a small spoon and dressed it with the juice from a fresh lemon. It was so simple yet ingenious and truly refreshing!


To top it off, the waitress prepared us some home made mead, that incorporated local honey, yeast and water, by using what appeared to be an industrial sized mouth pump pipette contraption. A beautiful combination with the piece of honey; a light floral tone and refreshing citrus aftertaste.P1090663The first dessert course had the overall effect of grazing over a green field (Herbes grasses…). The bottom layer revealed thin slices of creamy avocado on which sat a piece of avocado and pistachio sponge cake, topped with a herb ice cream. The combination of creamy avocado, nutty sweet cake and cold tangy ice cream was unbelievable. Certainly not something I would have chosen off menu but I was glad to have had it. Chocolate in many texturesAny equally odd combination followed with chocolate and French parsley (Cacao, cerfeuil…). The French parsley were carefully scattered across the chocolate cookie-wafer body, held together using smooth chocolate cream. The chocolate was delicate and luxurious but perhaps the French parsley was rather more visually appeasing, and less so on the palate.

P1090668Our last course tasted was colourful as it looked (Framboise, coquelicot…). Elegantly balanced on a bed of goats yoghurt was a tower of square raspberry jelly and black liquorice biscuits, topped with poppy petals. A perfect way to finish the evening.

P1090565I was generally impressed with the avant-garde cuisine that Gauthier had developed. Contrary to many of his peers in France, his cooking was expressed through his eccentricity in combining mundane ingredients and products to create something new and unusual. By experiencing the whole tasting menu one could only get a glimpse of his vision, but what was obvious was his appreciation and respect for natural flavours. I liked the fact that he enjoyed challenging the palate of the discerning diners without compromising on his philosophy. Just as how Bocuse had led a culinary revolution many decades ago with ‘nouvelle cuisine’, it’s encouraging to see the next generations of chef doing the same by challenging the norm. La Grenouillere may perhaps be one of the most exciting restaurant in France right now.

Ledoyen, Paris

P1060886Chef: Christian LeSquer      Website:      Cuisine: Modern French

Ledoyen is one of Paris’ oldest restaurants situated in the quiet gardens off the Champs Elysées. The restaurant dates as far back as 1779 when it operated as an inn in the outskirt of Paris before it transformed into a restaurant under Pierre-Michel Ledoyen twelve years later. As one of Paris’ oldest restaurant it has catered for some high profile individuals including Monet, Picasso, Cezanne, Degas and Flaubert, and was reportedly where Napoleon and Joséphine first met. As a restaurant that has been far more secretive about their success, I was very curious to try Head Chef Christian LeSquer’s cooking. After all, he was instrumental in gaining the third Michelin star after joining the restaurant in 2002.

P1060879The neoclassical influenced two storey building, which extended to the interior, evidenced by the luxurious and elegant curtain and coordinating wall papers. This must be one of the most majestic dining space in Paris and surprisingly very comfortable too from the generously large tables to the plush armchairs. All three sides of the dining room looked out on the tranquil garden and almost made you forget you were in the middle of a large city.

P1060798Unlike many of the other three Michelin starred establishments in Paris, Ledoyen also has an amazing offer during the weekday for lunch. For only 128 euros you can get an amazing three-course meal, which also includes a few tasty surprises before, between and after the courses. What’s more, cheese is a given and not even considered to be a course. Bargain! I noticed the Maitre’D conversing in Japanese with the diners sitting next to us before coming to take our order in fluent English. Very impressive given we were in Paris where the language of fine dining is dictated by French.

P1060794Some nibbles to kick off starting with a parcel that was filled with a delicious and aromatically inviting white truffle velouté, followed by a savoury pastry dusted with an intense mushroom powder and finishing with an onion and leek pastry served on a spoon. Classic flavours with a modern presentation; what a lovely surprise!

P1060796A variety of horseradish and squid ink crackers to go with our glass of Duval Leroy, Femme de Champagne, 2000.

P1060800A choice of three bread starting with a sesame roll that had a texture and moisture of a buttery brioche, a crusty and flavoursome baguette and finally a light flavoured olive oil bread. Suffice to say, the French take their bread very seriously and this was no exception.

P1060803Just when we thought our first course was being served, our waiter surprised us with one final mise en bouche of the smoked eel accompanied with a blue and red concentrated cabbage jus. The eel was handled very delicately and had a good amount of smokiness to it. A great balance of acidity from the red cabbage jus as well. Thoroughly impressive stuff and we had not even had our starter!

P1060807Foie Gras des Landes au vin de Médoc, Meringue citron / framboise. A very elegant dish combining a base made from rich foie gras that had been poached in red wine with a layer of a lemon and raspberry meringue sitting on top with a caramelised surface, finished with a thin crisp for textural variation. The sweetness and acidity from the meringue was just superb to cut through the foie gras, making this a very light starter. Possibly the best foie gras dish I’ve ever had to date.

P1060815We all have one of those bad decisions we would regret for a long time and the Aiguillette de Saint-Pierre à l’infusion d’Estragon was it. It was basically John Dory cooked in a water bath, served over a bed of lemon and tarragon cream and topped with some grapefruit pulps. Don’t get me wrong. It was not a bad dish but did not come close to my wife’s….

P1060823Pièce de boeuf “Hereford”, sauce ketchup. To put it simply, this was possibly the best cut of steak I have ever had outside Japan and the benchmark against which I now compare all meat dishes. A beautiful sirloin sourced from the high sought-after breed of Hereford. It had all the hallmarks of an amazing steak – juicy, soft and bags of flavour – and hardly needed anything else, including the bastardised “le ketchup” sauce. Mind you, the olive tapenade encrusted bone marrow and blown potato crisps were delicious in their own right.

P1060825And of course, when in France, one must do what a French man does, eat cheese! Superb selection from the Fromages frais et affinés (fancy way of saying fresh and matured cheese), sourced from none other than the masters of cheese, Bernard Antony and Quatre Hommes. Did I also forget to mention that the cheese course was included in the three-course option? Amazing.

P1060847Some pre-dessert nibbles to prepare our palate served on a giant meringue. A very fruity and sweet wild strawberry tart, an airy and crunchy orange brioche with raspberry jam, a ball of black and white sesame seeds and ginger, and a basil and almond crème brûlée ball.

P1060853Our meal got even better when LeSquer decided to make a special appearance and prepare specially for us a bonus course of the their signature dish, Croquant de Pamplemousse cuit et cru. A celebration of grapefruit prepared in five ways starting from the bottom with a layer of sweet confit grapefruit, grapefruit marinated in lime for that lovely citrus flavour and acidity, a refreshingly cool layer of grapefruit sorbet, a grapefruit croquant and finally grapefruit marmalade dotted across the dish. It was refreshing, cool and surprisingly well balanced as I expected the dish to be very tart. It definitely overshadowed our subsequent dessert dishes.

P1060864I opted for the Fraisier Contemporin which was, surprise surprise, all about strawberries. The naturally sweet strawberries formed the base and was also used to make the cream and foam. There was a cold layer of vanilla custard inside and some extra servings on the side just in case you wanted a bit more. Contrary to our expectation, it was a delicate course with a light flavour of strawberries despite the overwhelming pink. A contemporary take on strawberry and cream.

P1060868The other option was the Rémoulade printanière de carottes aux épices (a spring remoulade from spiced carrots). A couple of slices of fresh orange and cream formed the based to be crowned with shavings of carrot, a carrot sponge cake and some sugar work incorporating concentrated carrot juice. Beautiful vivid colours and a work of art, but more importantly it worked well. The carrot gave the depth and body to the sweet and refreshing flavours of the orange.

P1060872Just in case dessert wasn’t enough, we were also presented with some Kouign-amann avec noisette caramelisee. A traditional cake from Brittany made with bread dough containing a generous portion of butter and sugar folded in and baked slowly, served with caramelised nuts. This was like a croissant on steroid; it was much thicker and much sweeter. Delicieux!

P1060875Some caramel and chocolate mignardises to go with our coffee. We were absolutely stuffed!

P1060843From our discussion with LeSquer at the end of our meal it became apparent as to why there was so little publicity for Ledoyen; after all the website only contained a number and address. He wanted people like us to come with a sense of curiosity, not knowing what to expect. We came, we ate, and we left enchanted. From a first class front of house and comfortable dining space to a flawlessly executed meal at a bargain price, Ledoyen for me was far more enjoyable than Guy Savoy or Epicure. If you truly want an unforgettable experience in Paris, just follow the steps of Napoleon. You won’t regret it.

Quince Dining, Yarra Valley


Chef: Clinton Camilleri   Website:  Cuisine: Modern Australian

If there’s one thing that is available in abundance in the Yarra Valley region, other than wine of course, is fresh and seasonal local produce. Home to one of the most ethical large scale commercial salmon farm and the famous Yarra Valley Dairy, one is spoilt for choice when it comes to ingredients and produce. It therefore wasn’t surprising to find the culinary outpost of the region, The Healesville Hotel, has received many accolades over the years. I felt I had long neglected the restaurant having headed straight for the wineries without a second thought and therefore decided to use my birthday as an opportunity to pay a visit.

P1150284A casual restaurant during the week, the dining room of the Healesville Hotel transforms into the elegant space that is Quince Dining for the weekend to entertain the palate of those discerning diners who come to seek culinary adventures. Out comes the crisp linen, silver cutleries and quality wine glasses, yet the charming country character clearly remains present amongst the beautiful arrangement of seasonal flowers decorated across the room and the open fire place.

P1150288Obviously an occasion like this called for a glass of bubbly and what better than to try something local with the 2010 Pinot Noir Chardonnay, Coldstream Hills, Yarra Valley? It had a complex nose with notes of citrus and tart finish. My kind of bubbly!

P1150293To be able to enjoy the variety of fresh season produce from the region we opted for the five course tasting menu coming at $90 per head. In writing the menu looked superb and certainly made me lick my lips.

P1150299We had some homemade focaccia with rosemary, drizzled with virgin olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt flakes. As far as bread goes this was not bad, although a bit more olive oil would have been welcomed.

P1150303Our palate cleanser was a Tomato consommé with tomato cubes and basil leaves. Defying its appearance, this dish had a very deep flavour of tomato showcasing the quality of their garden’s produce. A promising start!

P1150305Our first course was perhaps the most disappointing dish of the evening. Despite its picture perfect appearance, the Beetroot cured salmon, yoghurt, verjus dressing, compressed watermelon & pickled rind had the finesse of a fine dining dish but unfortunately the fish lacked flavour. What a shame! The fatty salmon was crying out for some attention but instead was overwhelmed with the tart yoghurt.

P1150308A much better course was the Poached veal loin with tuna mayonnaise, bresaola, pickled onions, vincotto. Camilleri’s take on the classic Vitello Tonatto was far more enjoyable than the classic versions I have tried to date. The perfectly cooked veal oozed with flavours. The crumbed and deep fried tuna mayonnaise had a lovely contrast of crispy texture and juicy filling.

P1150314Third course was Slow cooked hen’s egg, peperonata, olive, tarragon & shallot dressing. Again, I appreciated the quality of the ingredients from the freshly laid egg to the homemade peperonata but there was a significant lack of flavour, making the dish overall feel mundane. Furthermore, it was cruel to serve a perfectly poached egg with nothing to mop it up with!

P1150317A glass of St Ronan’s method traditionelle apple cider, Yarra Valley. We recently followed the ale and cider trail in the Yarra Valley but didn’t come across this particular one so I was curious to try it, especially after being told that the method used to making this cider followed exactly the same way champagne is made. Clean and fresh flavours of apple and pear with a beautifully creamy lingering note.

P1150321The cider went particularly well with my Slow cooked pork belly, crumbed cheek, lentil, peach and fennel. A far stronger course here utilising all the great produce and ingredients again, in particular the quality of the meat. Great balance between the fat, lean meat and crackling for the pork belly, although my favourite was the crumbed cheek with its contrasting soft meat and crispy coat. The slightly sweet peach was surprisingly working in harmony with the pork and my cider. Fabulous!

P1150325A refreshing palate cleanser of Raspberry sorbet and dark chocolate before our finale. Good level of sharpness from the raspberry.

P1150329Timboon fromage blanc, cherry compote, lemon verbena granita, brandy snap. A very versatile curd cheese with a fresh and clean taste, perfect as a canvass for the sweet cherry compote, finishing with an aromatic note and a contrasting cold element from the verbena granita. The brandy snap added that textural element to sink your teeth into.

P1150333Some chocolate petit fours to go with our coffee to end the meal.

P1150335It’s encouraging to see a restaurant of this calibre in the Yarra Valley. Quince Dining was a perfect venue to showcase the quality produce and ingredients from the region. I must admit, however, that I wished the front of house was much more engaging with their diners, sharing with us the background and stories on the unsung heroes; the farmers and suppliers. Don’t get me wrong. The staff were functional and professional but equally shy and not forthcoming, never going beyond reciting what was written on the menu. Also, while there were certainly some hero moments with regards to the dishes, overall more work needed to be done to maximise the flavour of the produce used. Sometimes it was as simple as a few more pinches of salt, but others (like the cured salmon) needed more serious work. This was a valiant effort and the restaurant should be applauded for supporting such an endeavour. I look forward to seeing how this establishment evolves over the coming seasons.